Vodaphone UK is accused of routinely refusing to close the accounts of dead customers, demanding that the dead do so themselves—even refusing to respect requests made under power of attorney by bereaved relatives. The nightmarish treatment was exposed after the company made the mistake of trying to screw over one of Britain's most prolix and relentless political columnists after his mother died.
My mum suffered a long and debilitating illness, and we were as prepared for her death as anyone can be. We are blessed with the support of my dad's brilliant carer. Even so, Vodafone made everything much worse. I can scarcely imagine how this might have affected a family unexpectedly bereaved, under great stress and with fewer resources.
A fortnight ago, more than four months after my mother's death, I belatedly snapped, and described our experience in a Twitter thread. My intention was to shame Vodafone into action. I got more than I bargained for.
Immediately, the responses started pouring in: first dozens, then hundreds of people sharing similar and sometimes even worse experiences when trying to cancel accounts with Vodafone, especially the accounts of people who had died or whose capacity had diminished. They reported, while in the depths of grief, the same nastiness and lack of sympathy. They reported an insistence on questioning vulnerable and confused elderly people. They described months, in some cases years, of failure to cancel such contracts. One woman who contacted me said she was still paying £78 a month to Vodafone for the phone of her daughter, who was murdered more than a year ago, despite sending them the death certificate and newspaper clippings.
George Monbiot writes at length on Twitter, and his story is infuriating, as is Vodafone's perfunctory "mistakes were made" statement. But his are rhetorical questions. The short of it is surely this: Vodafone's phone staff get in trouble if they close accounts and its internal system is designed to make callers give up trying. Vodafone will never change this, short of a proverbial gun to its head, because the cellular market is saturated and retention is everything. The likely outcome is some pointless years-long wrangle over trivial aspects of customer service policy implementation, because burning down the corporate and legal context that enables all this is unthinkable.